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Picketin' and Pickin'
by Haven James

Artist: Richard Starkey
Where: Alegro Music
Date: Wednesday, February 17

One heralds "Rise and Shine, It's Riot Time!" and the other announces "Richard Starkey is coming to town!" Two big music items are in the news, and both are geared at bringing the music to the people.

Remember the SoyBomber of Grammy last? He was the shirtless guy who popped out on stage in the middle of Dylan's set at last year's Grammy Awards, with only his poster-painted accolade bannered across his chest. "Performance artist" Michael Portnoi gyrated about until removed by security, befuddling most all who witnessed his interruption. Follow-up reports revealed his alliance with the Music Militia and the AntiGrammy campaign. Despite that encounter, now acknowledged by Militia command as somewhat of a misfire, the 1999 campaign continues full tilt as we approach this year's Grammy ceremonies.

By now you've probably seen news stories of the Sonic Riot held yesterday (Wednesday, February 10) at Worldwide Plaza outside of the offices of Universal Records in Manhattan. Earlier this week, we spoke to a Militia commandant about the group's plans and the motives behind this happening, as well as his projections regarding an upcoming Sonic Riot 2 and the bicoastal AntiGrammy campaign being mounted for later this month.

On the eve of the Plaza gathering, at which approximately 500 members of the Music Militia were set to join in an organized effort to disrupt business as usual by Universal, Tom Martin told us that the protest were directed at "the slash-and-burn tactics of valuing music on how many units they sell." The Militia spokesman explained that the current merger trend has devalued the content of music as product and forced the setting of sales parameters to regulate who gets contracts and who gets bumped. It's expected that hundreds of bands will be dropped in the coming months, leaving many artists stranded with fewer and fewer independent labels surviving absorption by the few big corporations. "The Sonic Riot itself will be the most literal liberation of music from the corporate accountant possible," Martin said. "It means with 500 members of the Militia outside of Universal Records armed with instruments of sound and noise ... it will be chaos, it will possibly reduce down to a single om."

The second primary intent of the Sonic Riot is to simply draw attention to this issue and establish a "rallying cry" for all struggling independent artists and labels. There are a number of subgroups identified by various acronyms such as ESP, their Espionage and Subversion Project, and IDEAL, a network of Independent Revolutionary Artists and Labels. The second Sonic Riot will take place Grammy night, February 24; the New York event will be at the Dag Hammerskjold Plaza at the U.N., coinciding with the Left Coast gathering at Shrine Auditorium in L.A., where the Grammys will be held this year.

Another act of music terrorism is planned for the actual Grammy ceremonies, but that is "top secret," according to Martin. All he would confide at this point is that "infiltration has been achieved." When asked about their position on national radio, Tom was quick to reply, "We would like to put corporate radio on trial within the next six months. It is the most visibly tangible fucked-up part of the industry, especially now with the `pay-to-play' stuff." He explained that bands can now pay, like paying for an ad, to get their songs played. "It's not `payola' because the DJ will say this has been paid for by the record label, and then the song will come on." That issue is seen as a pressing one, along with the homogenization of playlists you hear from territory to territory across the country.

Those wishing more info on the Music Militia, the Sonic Riots and the AntiGrammy movement can check out the Music Militia web site.


A bit more laid back will be another music event scheduled for Wednesday, February 17, when Richard Starkey appears at Allegro Music, 73 Albany Avenue in Kingston, to deliver a presentation on the Martin Guitar company and its current and historic product line. Not the former Beatle, this Richard Starkey is a "player/clinician as well as a builder for the Martin Guitar company and somewhat of a spokesman," reports Ed Surowitz, known locally as Mr. Allegro.

The lecture/demo will include a factory tour video, and Richard's commentary on guitar construction, woods, and acoustical properties, as he demonstrates the tonality of different guitars from the Martin family's 160-year-old tradition. A performer, guitarist and "flatpickin' artist," Starkey's past appearances have included several up-tempo bluegrass flatpicking numbers, as well as a vocal rendition or two.

As Ed's invite noted, "The Martin Guitar has a universal cult-like following, primarily among bluegrass, country, pop, and rock players. The audience we'll get for this event will be small and eclectic ... People will talk about their own instrument. It's great for `Martin folks'."

We've run into Richard at a variety of summer festivals and can attest he knows his stuff. Any acoustic player ought to enjoy this encounter with one of today's leading luthiers. Call Allegro at 331-0087 or check out their web site

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on February 10th, 1999

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